Zimbabwe’s general elections have been marred by reports of voter intimidation, the arrest of civil society organization (CSOs) staff members and mounting fears of an internet shutdown, Amnesty International said today.
“We are deeply concerned by disturbing reports of widespread voter intimidation by Forever Associates of Zimbabwe (FAZ), a shadowy organization allegedly linked to the ruling party,” said Khanyo Farisè, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa.
“Authorities must allow everyone to freely exercise their human rights including the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, and access to information before, during and after the elections. The growing crackdown on human rights and impunity of perpetrators must end.”
Internet degraded ahead of elections.
There are also growing fears that internet connectivity has been affected in Zimbabwe. NetBlocks reported that the quality of internet access was degraded on 22 August 2023, affecting millions of individuals who rely on the internet for accessing information.
The Zimbabwean authorities have also failed to share any information about the cause of the internet connectivity problems, or the measures being taken to address them.
“Amnesty International calls on the authorities to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights to freedom of expression and access to information, which are enshrined in the Zimbabwean Constitution and human rights treaties including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to which Zimbabwe is a state party.. Access to information is a human right. The Zimbabwean authorities must guarantee reliable and unrestricted access to the internet before, during and after the election,” said Khanyo Farisè.
Reports shared online also indicated that around 40 staff members working at CSOs, from the Election Resource Centre (ERC) and the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), were arbitrarily arrested on 23 August and are currently in detention. These arbitrary detentions came after the Zimbabwe NGO Forum released a report detailing irregularities that they observed on election day.
“All members of civil society who were arrested should be immediately and unconditionally released, and all property confiscated by the police should be immediately returned. CSO staff members should never have to face intimidation and harassment simply for doing their work.”
Zimbabwe is currently holding presidential, parliamentary, and local government elections. Polls that had been scheduled to run from 7am to 7pm on 23 August had to be extended in many polling stations in Harare and Bulawayo. Many stations failed to open on time due to the Electoral Commission’s failure to distribute ballots on time — some stations received ballot papers as late as 4pm. As a result, voting has been extended to 24 August.
The country has a history of violent and disputed elections, with opposition parties repeatedly accusing the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF) of being behind the attacks.
Amnesty International has previously documented similar election-related human rights violations in the country, including in 2008 when more than 200 people were killed during and after the election amid violence against opposition supporters.